Digital Humanities in works of literature?

This post finds me jetlagged and happily worn out after my trip over the pond to the Social, Digital, Scholarly Editing conference in Saskatoon, followed in quick succession by Digital Humanities 2013 in Lincoln, Nebraska. 10 days, 6 flights, 2 countries, 2 conferences, 2 papers, 1 panel session, 2 chaired meetings and 3 posters later, I made my way home yesterday and decided not to work on the plane home (shock! horror!) but to treat myself to a nice novel. I picked up “Her Fearful Symmetry” by Audrey Niffenegger, and happily battered through it whilst airbourne – laughing to myself when the following paragraphs emerged…

Martin shook his head… “I used to work at the British Museum, translating ancient and classical languages. But now I work from home”.

Julia smiled. “So they bring the Rosetta Stone and all that here to you?”…

“No, no. I don’t often need the actual objects. They take photographs and make drawings – I use those. It’s all become so much easier now everything is digital. I suppose someday they’ll just wave the objects over the computer and it will sing the translation in Gregorian chant.  But in the meantime they still need somebody like me to work it out.” Martin paused, then said, rather shyly, “Do you like crossword puzzles?”  (Niffenegger, A.  (2009). Her Fearful Symmetry, p. 129.  Scribner, New York.)

Later on in the book – set in and around Highgate Cemetry in London – the following is also said:

 “Perhaps we ought to make another sign to post at the gate,” said James. “All uncertain grave owners please present yourselves during office hours when the staff can attend to your very time-consuming requests”.

“We want to help them,” said Jessica. “But they must call ahead. These people who pitch up on the cemetery’s doorstep wanting us to do a grave search while they wait – it’s beyond anything.”

“They think the records are digitised,” Robert said.

Jessica laughed.  “Ten years from now, perhaps. Evelyn and Paul are typing in the burial records as fast as their fingers can fly, but with one hundred and sixty-nine thousand entries -“

“I know.”

Its not the first time I’ve seen digital humanities/ digitisation creep into fiction – I remember some ludicrous database in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code* – but it did make me think, people are starting to notice the kind of things we’ve been working on for (in my case) over a decade. It’s great to see something that so relates to my doctoral work and published texts pop up in a work of fiction. Heck, the people at US immigration who ask you what you do when you say you are going to a conference might even understand what “Digital Humanities” means next! Maybe not.

Anyone else stumble across mentions of computing, culture, humanities and heritage in fiction? If so, I might feel another Tumblr coming on. Uh-oh…

* I dont have a copy of the Da Vinci Code, but the internet has provided an illegal online version, I copy the scene here. First one to send me a cease and desist and ask me to take it down wins.

She glanced at her guests. “What is this? Some kind of Harvard scavenger hunt?” Langdon’s laugh sounded forced. “Yeah, something like that.” Gettum paused, feeling she was not getting the whole story. Nonetheless, she felt intrigued and found herself pondering the verse carefully. “According to this rhyme, a knight did something that incurred displeasure with God, and yet a Pope was kind enough to bury him in London.”

Langdon nodded. “Does it ring any bells?”

Gettum moved toward one of the workstations. “Not offhand, but let’s see what we can pull up in the database.”

Over the past two decades, King’s College Research Institute in Systematic Theology had used optical character recognition software in unison with linguistic translation devices to digitize and catalog an enormous collection of texts – encyclopedias of religion, religious biographies, sacred scriptures in dozens of languages, histories, Vatican letters, diaries of clerics, anything at all that qualified as writings on human spirituality. Because the massive collection was now in the form of bits and bytes rather than physical pages, the data was infinitely more accessible.

Settling into one of the workstations, Gettum eyed the slip of paper and began typing. “To begin, we’ll run a straight Boolean with a few obvious keywords and see what happens.”

“Thank you.”

Gettum typed in a few words:


As she clicked the SEARCH button, she could feel the hum of the massive mainframe downstairs scanning data at a rate of 500 MB/sec. “I’m asking the system to show us any documents whose complete text contains all three of these keywords. We’ll get more hits than we want, but it’s a good place to start.”

The screen was already showing the first of the hits now.

Painting the Pope. The Collected Portraits of Sir Joshua Reynolds. London University Press.

Gettum shook her head. “Obviously not what you’re looking for.” She scrolled to the next hit.

The London Writings of Alexander Pope by G. Wilson Knight.

Again she shook her head.

As the system churned on, the hits came up more quickly than usual. Dozens of texts appeared, many of them referencing the eighteenth-century British writer Alexander Pope, whose counter religious, mock-epic poetry apparently contained plenty of references to knights and London.

Gettum shot a quick glance to the numeric field at the bottom of the screen. This computer, by calculating the current number of hits and multiplying by the percentage of the database left to search, provided a rough guess of how much information would be found. This particular search looked like it was going to return an obscenely large amount of data.

Estimated number of total hits: 2, 692

“We need to refine the parameters further,” Gettum said, stopping the search. “Is this all the information you have regarding the tomb? There’s nothing else to go on?”

Langdon glanced at Sophie Neveu, looking uncertain.

This is no scavenger hunt, Gettum sensed. She had heard the whisperings of Robert Langdon’s experience in Rome last year. This American had been granted access to the most secure library on earth – the Vatican Secret Archives. She wondered what kinds of secrets Langdon might have learned inside and if his current desperate hunt for a mysterious London tomb might relate to information he had gained within the Vatican. Gettum had been a librarian long enough to know the most common reason people came to London to look for knights. The Grail.

Gettum smiled and adjusted her glasses. “You are friends with Leigh Teabing, you are in England, and you are looking for a knight.” She folded her hands. “I can only assume you are on a Grail quest.”

Langdon and Sophie exchanged startled looks.

Gettum laughed. “My friends, this library is a base camp for Grail seekers. Leigh Teabing among them. I wish I had a shilling for every time I’d run searches for the Rose, Mary Magdalene, Sangreal, Merovingian, Priory of Sion, et cetera, et cetera. Everyone loves a conspiracy.” She took off her glasses and eyed them. “I need more information.”

In the silence, Gettum sensed her guests’ desire for discretion was quickly being outweighed by their eagerness for a fast result.

“Here,” Sophie Neveu blurted. “This is everything we know.” Borrowing a pen from Langdon, she wrote two more lines on the slip of paper and handed it to Gettum.

You seek the orb that ought be on his tomb. It speaks of Rosy flesh and seeded womb.

Gettum gave an inward smile. The Grail indeed, she thought, noting the references to the Rose and her seeded womb. “I can help you,” she said, looking up from the slip of paper. “Might I ask where this verse came from? And why you are seeking an orb?”

“You might ask,” Langdon said, with a friendly smile,” but it’s a long story and we have very little time.”

“Sounds like a polite way of saying “mind your own business.””

“We would be forever in your debt, Pamela,” Langdon said, “if you could find out who this knight is and where he is buried.”

“Very well,” Gettum said, typing again. “I’ll play along. If this is a Grail-related issue, we should cross-reference against Grail keywords. I’ll add a proximity parameter and remove the title weighting. That will limit our hits only to those instances of textual keywords that occur near aGrail-related word.”


Within 100 word proximity of: GRAIL, ROSE, SANGREAL, CHALICE

“How long will this take?” Sophie asked.

“A few hundred terabytes with multiple cross-referencing fields?” Gettum’s eyes glimmered as she clicked the SEARCH key. “A mere fifteen minutes.”

Langdon and Sophie said nothing, but Gettum sensed this sounded like an eternity to them.

“Tea?” Gettum asked, standing and walking toward the pot she had made earlier. “Leigh always loves my tea.”

On Changing the Rules of Digital Humanities from the Inside

There has been a lot of talk recently about how my field – Digital Humanities – has to change. We are too insular. We’re excluding those who want to partake in it. The structures that have been built within the discipline preclude the type and means of research which we claim to do.  Issues of gender, race, ethnicity, and class raise their heads. There are a few online resources that exist which sum up these feelings: see “Toward an Open DigitalHumanities” google discussion document and, more recently, the Open Thread on “The Digital Humanities as a Historical“Refuge” from Race/Class/Gender/Sexuality/Disability?” over at Postcolonial Digital Humanities.

I’m not denying that there are issues in Digital Humanities. One need only look at the recently published program for DH2013 and cast your eye over the authorship of the accepted papers to see that this year’s Digital Humanities presenting cohort is around 65% male, 35% female. But what I would say, speaking on a personal level and not representing any authority here, is an obvious point which I don’t hear often voiced. Most people “within” Digital Humanities – that is those within the ADHO committee structures, those helping to run the conferences, those helping to allocate student bursaries and prizes, those helping to review papers and manuscripts, and heck, even the cool kids on twitter, are people who want Digital Humanities to be as open and as great as possible. This whole field has been built on the hard work of many academics who have given up their free time to try and entrench the use of computing in humanistic study into an academic field of enquiry, and it wouldn’t exist without them, even if the form it exists in is currently imperfect. I would say, from where I sit on various committees, that people want to keep DH growing, and growing healthily. So if there are things wrong with DH, then do give concrete examples, or propose concrete solutions, so they can be taken forward. They’re listening – we’re listening.

There are things that have really frustrated me within DH, and it is only recently that I’ve started to actively question and pursue them, to get them to be changed. For example, in 2006 I first noticed that the TEI guidelines encouraged the use of ISO5218:2004 to assign sexuality of persons in a document (with attributes being given as 1 for male, 2 for female, 9 for non-applicable, and 0 for unknown). I find this an outmoded and problematic representation of sexuality, which in particular formally assigns women to be secondary to men, and so, in one of the core guidelines in Digital Humanities, we allow and indeed encourage sexist structures to be encoded. I was shocked to hear this – and have often brought it up when discussing entrenched issues in DH about gender balance. In a recent conversation on twitter about this topic, Stephen Ramsay summed up the issue:

James Cummingsresponded to our tweets, asking why, if it bothered me (and others) so much, hadn’t anyone submitted a feature request to TEI about it? And you know, it had never occurred to me that there would be an easy route to question this sort of stuff. He pointed me to where to submit a request, which I did here.  The discussion which follows is really very interesting – look out for the “you cant possibly be offended!” argument, or the “but we’ve always done it this way!” response. Also look out for very vocal support from Gabriel Bodard, in particular, who helped steer the discussion forward to ensure that at

“the TEI Council meeting in Brown, 2013-04, we agreed to change the datatype of person/@sex, personGrp/@sex and sex/@value from ISO 5218 to data.word, so as to allow the use of locally defined values or alternative published standards to be used in these attributes.” 

Women are secondary in the TEI rules no more! Hurrah! – and all it needed for that to happen was for someone to raise the issue in the correct forum, and explain the issue to those who did not understand it, until they finally did.

I’m Program Chair for DH2014 and issues of diversity and equality are currently on my mind as we discuss and choose plenary speakers for the Lausanne conference. It was recently pointed out to me, though, that the ADHO conference protocols don’t allow issues of diversity to be taken into consideration when choosing plenary speakers, originally saying

“Keynote speakers are decided by the International Program Committee in consultation with the Local Organiser, and should ideally represent a range of disciplines, interests, and geography.”

This isn’t good enough, as it means that you cant say “We’ve got a man to be one of the speakers, how about having a woman for the other one?” without being at risk of being accused of breaching protocol. I’ve recently chased an amendment round the ADHO committee structures, which means the ADHO conference protocols, since last week, state:

“Keynote speakers are decided by the International Program Committee in consultation with the Local Organiser, and should ideally represent a range of complementary disciplines, interests, and geography, with consideration given to issues of gender equality, and economic, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity.” 

Perhaps a small deal, focussing on the choice of a couple of speakers a year at our international conference, but pointing to the fact that the ADHO constitution needs to be looked over, to see where we can enshrine issues of gender equality, and other issues of diversity, within our communities. We need to make the rules that people have to abide by. We can make the rules, and we can change the rules. What rules would there help to be?

Of course, changing rules and guidelines wont make everything change overnight, and I wouldnt like to naively claim they will solve everything, but they are a start. I guess what I’m saying here is that, in general, folks “within” Digital Humanities are doing their best, and open to discussion and improvement, and are not willfully obstructive to those of a different gender, race, or economic class, etc. Criticism is helpful, and if there are things that need changing, or unconscious biases that need rectifying, then point them out, tell us. Tell us where concrete things are that we can act upon. We all want Digital Humanities to be the best it possibly can be, and I, for one, don’t mind changing the rules from the inside, in the time that I remain there. 

28/05/13 Addendum to the original post:  for an ADHO led initiative on diversity see GO::DH. I’d also like to encourage anyone who is interested in discussing change to consider standing for election to one of the ADHO organisations – we always need volunteers who want to roll up their sleeves!

On Throwing Your Klout Around

I am @melissaterras. I have just shy of 4500 followers on twitter, a blog which garnered 100,000 readers last year, and a current Klout score of 64. I tend to take this kind of thing with a grain of salt: I hang out on social media because I enjoy it and it has also proved useful and beneficial to my career. I’m aware I’m not Justin Bieber and that my stats – while above average – are not particularly big shakes.But over the past few weeks a few things have happened which have made me think about digital identity, responsibility, and where academic use of social media crosses into the “real life” arena.

Case 1. I travel a lot with work, usually using Opodo to book tickets. A few weeks ago I found myself locked out of “My Opodo” and couldn’t access it to check itineraries, tickets, or print boarding passes, etc. I tried getting in touch with customer services, spending hours on the phone, emailing, tweeting and asking for help. Nothing. With an upcoming trip, and growing frustration (spending an hour on hold to Opodo is never in the plan of my day) I posted a few disgruntled tweets about their shocking customer service, which, retweeted by some followers, had the potential to reach over 10,000 users within a matter of minutes. My mobile rang. Opodo – a firm reknowned for not answering customer complaints in a timely fashion- had phoned me to help resolve the problem.

I’ve seen it reported that Klout scores andtwitter follower counts are now being paid attention by customer services, but while I can provide various concrete examples of why having a digital profile has helped my academic career, this is the first time I can point to something which has actually helped resolve an issue I have had with a commercial entity. I’m simultaneously aghast that it would take an above average twitter following to help you get on a departing flight, and relieved that it helped me to get an increasing pressing travel issue sorted out. What about those not-so-valued customers that didn’t manage to get the issue resolved in time?

Case 2 is where I now am aware that writing something online could cost a local business tens of thousands of pounds in business. I’m not happy with the project management company who looked after a build at our home, as the ceiling is now leaking, and they are ignoring any enquiries we are making to help have this sorted. It would be easy for me to name them here, linking to their website, and within a couple of days if you googled for them my blog post would appear above their own website in the rankings, due to the fact that my blog is tapped into more existing networks than theirs.

It would seem that, at the moment, the easiest tool at my disposal to use is my digital identity. Indeed, it is probably the only leverage I have to stop the growing discolouration of our new dining room ceiling. But that makes me uneasy, as I know how difficult it would be for them to claw back in a negative customer comment once it has been broadcast online, and we are happy in general with our build and are sure this is a minor issue to resolve. Should I be throwing my klout around, if it will negatively affect others in the long term?

I’m left thinking of the increasingly intertwined nature of customer service, digital presence, and moral responsibility. Whilst I was playing at this, this stuff got real.

What People Study When They Study Twitter

So, keeping good to my Open Access promises – my latest co-authored paper to go up in preprint, which will be out in print sometime this year in the Journal of Documentation – hot off the presses! Just as it goes up in preprint behind a paywall on the journal pages! is a jointly authored paper with Shirley Williams, from the University of Reading, and Claire Warwick, from UCLDIS. And here it is:

Williams, S and Terras, M and Warwick, C (2013) “What people study when they study Twitter: Classifying Twitter related academic papers”. Journal of Documentation , 69 (3). Free PDF Download From UCL repository.

In this paper, we identify the 1161 academic papers that were published about Twitter between 2007 (when the first papers on Twitter appeared) and the close of 2011. We then analyse method, subject, and approach, to show what people are doing (or have been publishing!) on the use of Twitter in academic studies, providing a framework within which researchers studying the development and use of twitter as a source of data will be able to position their work. Oh, we also provide the list of the papers we found, so you can have a look-see yourself.

And the story behind this one? Shirley was introduced to Claire and myself by the late (and much missed) Prof. Mark Baker at Reading, when we undertook the Linksphere project.  Now, I’ve written about Linksphere elsewhere – it was an ambitious project which really didnt take off due to a variety of factors – but the good things to come out of it were our RA, Claire Ross, and meeting Shirley. We published a paper on the use of twitter by academics at conferences when the Linksphere project was going. A year or so after the project finished, Shirley was granted a research sabbatical, and asked Claire and I if we would be interested in carrying on that work with her. Kicking around a few ideas, we wondered whether it would be possible to round up all the published work on Twitter – what are people using it for? And then to analyse it, to see if we can classify how people are using it, what the datasets are, what the methods are, and what the domains are. Wouldnt it be nice to have a bibliography on the use of twitter in research papers? And so away Shirley went, working with Claire and I, and building up this nice framework in which we can look at twitter based research.

The paper was accepted into the Journal of Documentation last summer, and this month went up in preprint at the Journal of Documentation website, and is now out in Open Access from UCL’s research repository, before it even hits the Library shelves. Which is how it should be, non?

How Many Digital Humanists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Q. How many Digital Humanists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. Two: The first to change the lightbulb using the available, existing technology. The second to say “You’re not DH unless you make the lightbulb yourself!”.

Q. How many Digital Humanists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. Yay! Lets Crowdsource!

Q. How many Digital Humanists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. One. But they have to have a PhD in Byzantine Sigillography AND at least 4 years experience of XSLT before you are going to let them near that bad boy.

Q. How many Digital Humanists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. As many as you like, but no REAL humanities academic is going to trust that lightsource.

Q. How many Digital Humanists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. It depends. Does the lightbulb count as a “scholarly primitive”?

Q. How many Digital Humanists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. One. But only if they are allowed to include “multimedia experience” in their tenure portfolio.

Q. How many Digital Humanists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. These are such IN JOKES only the COOL KIDS on twitter will get them. Pout.

(I originally came up with these jokes on the DayofDH2011 – reposting them here on the DayofDH2013 to have a copy on my own blog.)

This is not a blog post

(This is the blog post I’ve put up on the Day of DH site – where Digital Humanists all over the world are telling people what they are up to on a specific day. Me, I’m working hard in a different way, on holiday).

This Day of DH sees me not doing much DH at all… but yet. I’m on holiday, on the second week of the school easter break, with my three young boys, in Scotland, staying with family. I wasn’t going to blog anything at all – but then, hey, this is part of my life as a DHer too, right? Its not just about the work, its about what you do elsewhere? But can you actually switch off from DH, from work, when you are away?– at least, it seems not that way if you are an academic.

So what did we get up to today? Not a bad night, up only three times (two night terrors and one sea shanty) and then woken early to a boy shouting “Mummy! Robot! Monkey!” repeatedly. A slow walk to the shop for papers and sweeties, some playing with watering cans, a trip to a garden centre to meet an old friend and her kid for coffee, a visit from my Aunt. The endless cleaning and tidying and management of stuff which comes with having three small people, roll calls to ensure people have their shoes and their stuffed animals from one stop to the next. Highlights included driving alongside a wind farm for a mile or so and the boys shouting “BIG. WINDMILLS! BIG. WINDMILLS!” – lowlights include turning my back for two minutes and seeing Twin Two up 8 feet in the air on something he shouldn’t be climbing on in the garden centre – tuts from other parents in the vicinity very forthcoming.

Its not like I haven’t thought about work. I find it very difficult to switch off when on holiday – it takes me about a week to stop sending myself emails reminding me to do X, Y, and Z when I get back. I’m on the twitters – I find hanging out on twitter gets me through the day when looking after the three weans all day and all night, especially if they are up through the night – and today of all days, it was fascinating to see twitter erupt and turn and shift around a news item. The asynchronous nature suits having a quick shufty at quiet moments – seconds – in the parenting day. But I haven’t been on work email for a week or so, and wont be for another week or so. Usually I’m glued to it, answering emails at all times of the day, but its important for me to step back from it a few times a year. I popped on there a couple of days ago to action something time-limited and laughed at all the emails that had come in setting me deadlines I hadn’t agreed to that I will miss in my absence. Meh – I’m usually quick on the mark but this week? I’m teaching my twins how to do forward rolls instead.

As I do more and more managerial work in my role at UCL Centre for Digital Humanities I wonder really how much of my interaction with computing is through email. (Most of it now). I’m a professional email answerer, really. Been a while since I implemented something myself. I wonder, amidst all the arguments about should DHers code, etc, how the whole “can code, but manages coders” fits in. But this week, I’m not even answering email. Oh no. I’m on holiday. I’m away. And goodness, it is good to step away from email, that harsh, thankless taskmistress. But if I’m not on email…. I am a DHer any more?

But its not like I haven’t thought about work. It’s the blessing/curse of academia: obsessive compulsive behavior is rewarded, and its hard to switch off the obsession. So in the past week or so I’ve been ruminating on next steps, projects I’m undertaking, research I should do next, blog posts that are brewing, in between having cups of tea at my grandparents or visiting my cousins or dandling poorly boys at 3am. Everything you can do when you are not on email. The nice stuff online and offline, without the work email.

It’s not that I haven’t thought about work. Heck, I even blogged for the Day of DH. An example of the blended life style us DHers live: how hard it is to get away, even when you are away, how connected we all are, how it’s all a balancing act.

So I’m not sure that this is a blog post. I’m not sure that this is a holiday. I don’t know what it is… must be DH, then.

What Price a Hashtag? The cost of #digitalhumanities

The academic community I’m most heavily involved in – Digital Humanities – are fairly invested in twitter. At all times of the day there are major figures, students, and newbies in the field on there, just hanging out, debating topics, forwarding links to events, job postings, interesting research and cool things they have stumbled upon. People have studied this – graphing and charting the discussions, especially around the DH conference, and heck, even I have co-authored a paper on the subject.

I’m currently working on a book/project called Defining Digital Humanities and I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to get all – and I mean all – the tweets that contain the hashtag #Digitalhumanities – what fun could be had charting the growth of the discipline, the geolocation of tweets, the networks that exist, the sentiments surrounding it – etc etc. Now, hindsight is a grand thing- I should have thought to start scraping these back in 2006 – but surely it must be possible to get access to this for research? So I asked.

The first approach was to Gnip – who have “full historical access to the twitter firehose available exclusively”.They were really very helpful, and we got into a conversation about my needs, their licensing, and – of course – costs. The upshot is that if you want a hashtag, you can get it for a price, with the text delivered in JSON format. I was quoted between $15,000 and $25,000 for the full historical set (depending on the exact volume of the data, they are now looking into it to give me the final figure – I and they dont yet know how many tweets there are containing this hashtag).

The second place I asked was Datasift – “the leading platform for building applications with insights derived from the most popular social networks and news sources”.They do have access to the historical twitter firehose, but they don’t do one off searches, and licensing will start at $3000 per month to get access to it (on a yearly contract). They will be launching a pay as you go service at some point, they tell me. By the way, you can get $10 worth of free credit for processing if you sign up and play around with some current searches: I set a set for #digitalhumanities and I had run out of credit within a few hours. (I find the user interface very obfuscating– I’m still wrangling with it to see what that data actually is!).

Now, these costs are very little compared to the costs to access the full firehose and lets face it – a free service like twitter has to make its money somewhere. These were not vexatious enquiries: I’d really like to do this study. But now I have to find $25k down the back of the sofa to get access to this data (and incidentally, if I do, I wont be allowed to quote it, only to show the stats that emerge from the analysis).$25k is a fair whack of money in academia-land. It will also take around 6 months (at least) to write it into a grant proposal to raise the money – and how to persuade academic funders that buying this dataset is good use of their money? Frankly, I’m not sure that will fly in the arts and humanities, where complete grant costings can come under £100k for a one year project.

Thinking caps are now on to see how we can get funding put together to get access to the data of the community I – goddamit – helped (in some small way) to create. I love twitter with a passion and it continues to inform and aid my teaching and research. But when we invest so much in a free service, we are selling ourselves. It’s interesting to see how much #digitalhumanities is “worth” to others. Anyone got a free $25k?

What’s in a name? Academic Identity in the metadata age, or, I didnt see #tarotgate coming

At the end of last week I was pulling together some internal appraisal documentation – the kind of thing where you say “oh look how many people cited my work over the past year”. Wandering over to my Google scholar profile to check some citation counts I noted something weird. Alongside my usual digital humanities-ey, digitisation-ey, digital classicist-ey journal papers and book chapters were some strange papers that I definitely had not written. Things like Human Experience and Tarot Symbolism, (link still working to my Google scholar profile at time of writing) or Tarot and Projective Hypothesis.

Now, I’m a committed atheist, which means I also don’t care for the occult either. And while I try to respect other’s research choices (its a bit like feminism – I may not like what you are doing with your life, but I respect your right to choose what you do with it) this is not something that, professionally, I would choose to be associated with. And it’s extremely strange to see your name academically associated with something you don’t want to be associated with – especially when academic identity is everything in this game.

Perhaps there is another Melissa M. Terras? I first thought. I’m very lucky that there aren’t too many Terrases about – I’ve never really had to deal with name disambiguation (I know academics who have other colleagues with the same name as them in the same department) so I’m a bit spoiled on that front in real life. Melissa is a really rare name in Scotland (although not other parts of the world) and so I had never met another one until I was 15. I sometimes get confused for Melody Terras, who is in Psychology, and automated algorithms especially like to assign me her works (such as Google scholar, or the algorithm in our open access repository).  But no, the works clearly showed that the Melissa M. Terras was in the Department of Information Studies at UCL. There’s only one of us there, and that’s me.

A bit of googling told me that the author of the book in which all of these chapters were published was Inna Semetsky. A few seconds more of googling took me to her personal website, which had a big fat CALL ME NOW skype button on it (I’m not linking to it here, as I dont want to encourage anyone to call her. If you want to seek her out, you will have to do so yourself).  So I CALLED HER NOW, not really expecting anyone to pick up. She picked up on video chat after a few rings, although it was clearly in the middle of the night wherever she was (which I wasnt to know). She knew immediately who I was: it was clear that the book had been up with the wrong authorship attributed for some time, which I find strange: if you had written a book, and the “Internet” decided it was written by someone else, would you not fight to get it righted? A heated exchange followed. I dont want to say too much about Inna Semetsky – she is entitled to her own privacy and her own research space. Let’s just say we didnt exactly hit it off, and that heated exchange continued over email. (Everyone knows that the one way to anger someone from Scotland is to call them English, right?)

By now it had become clear that there was no real malice in this: but I suspected metadata fail. I had previously published a chapter in a book which was published by Sense Publishers – who published Semetsky’s book Re-Symbolization of the Self, Human Development and Tarot Hermeneutic. It seemed to me that somewhere in the ingestion process into the Springer system, that my name had gotten into the author field – field slippage in a database? that’s fairly common? S next to T in the alphabet, so perhaps field slippage in Sense Publisher’s author database? – which meant I had been erroneously associated with this work. So now to get it right.

I contacted both Springer and the Press. Sense Publishers were very helpful, but ducked for cover when I hit them with the cease and desist. Springer said they would take it down. But they didnt. I complained again, and lined up the UCL lawyers to begin legal proceedings. Springer said they would take down the content (“We induced the deletion of the content from our platform, which will be done as soon as possible” – but hey, their English is better than my German, so I cant really mock them too badly when they later said they would delete the “hole” book). It took 6 days of constant emailing to complain and escalating legal threats before they eventually assigned the correct authorship information to the publication, which really must’ve been a 5 minute job. I hate to think how they would handle a request from someone not nearly as… pushy as me.

I repeatedly asked for an explanation from the  press and Springer – explaining a professional interest (and thinking of my dear, neglected blog, and the folks who were all pitching in on twitter by this time, following #tarotgate and the toings and froings from Springer and book author and me). I have received no explanation. You take my name, you pin it to something else, and you expect me not to want to find out why? When I work in an information studies department? No explanation has been given, and really – without malice! – I would like to know the assignation structure of author to material, given it seems so very fragile.

And so I am no longer associated with Tarot in publications databases. Except at time of writing, I still am. Various places crawl and syndicate authorship content online – Google Scholar is still showing me as author of various pieces of Tarot scholarship, and now its going to be up to me to chase down mentions of my name associated with something I never chose to be associated with, simply because of an automated error, replicated across time and space and electronic repository, in a professional space becoming obsessed with citation counts and authorship and If You Liked This You May Like That, all churned out by thousands of servers and databases and… who cares if a database field slips in all this and an academic name is assigned to the wrong thing? It’s the future! It’s how scholarship works these days!

I have up til now pretty much ignored the discussions and systems about how to look after your scholarly identity – things like ORCID – why do I need to register! I have an unusual name! Everyone knows that it’s me who publishes on the digitisation-ey, digital humanities-ey stuff! Except the machines, the machines they dont care. We’re looking at a future where we dont just have to look after the stuff we have published, we now have to weed out the things that we havent. We have to be vigilant that the joiney-uppey automated systems dont replicate authorship errors uncontrollably. How rare of commonplace is this? I have no way to tell. But when the electronic record can be so easily compromised, how can we trust digital-only publications, without a canonical physical artefact to check?

It takes a long time to build up a scholarly identity. One slipped database field may have permanently associated me with an area I, quite frankly, dont respect. This blog post will go some way to explaining how that happened, so serves a dual purpose – explanation of how, and reference for why it’s not me. When was the last time you checked what the Internet said you wrote? Will you ever be able to rectify it, should a mistake be made? Will I? I didnt see that one coming. Maybe I should take up Tarot.

Update: 31/10/12, Response from the Publisher!!!!!! I will paste the email below.

My colleague Georg Kaimann alerted me about the serious mistake in the author information of several chapters in Dr. Semetsky’s book. Please do accept our apologies, also on behalf of our data conversion partner, and be assured that the problem is taken seriously.

High quality metadata, especially the correctness of titles, author names, and affiliations are of utmost importance for us. We have therefore taken the matter up with the production manager at our supplier. It turned out that errors in two places led to the incorrect author information which was published online: Firstly, the operator who created the xml metadata mistakenly used an already filled-out sample template for updating the chapter metadata; and secondly, quality control did not check the metadata in all chapters because they assumed that they were created in the approved way.

Although this is a very rare error (I don’t remember having seen such a case before), we of course want to rule out that it can happen again. At the vendors end, the technical team will work on improving the tool for capturing metadata information to avoid errors related to manual intervention. At Springer’s end, we will investigate if further data checks can be introduced so that errors are caught early in the production process.

Once again, we apologize for this mistake. Be assured that this problem is taken seriously as it affects the relationship between authors and publisher which is of high importance to us.

Best regards

Ilse Wittig

Manager Quality Assurance

Update: 06/05/12. Further contact from the publishers (Sense Publishers, this time, not Springer). See our conversation below. I would note at this stage that they have indeed kept their promises, the catalogue now reflects the true authorship of the pieces, and even google scholar finally no longer lists me as author of them. It doesn’t mean that this didn’t happen, though… hence the emails below. Oh, and its lovely weather here as I type this, hence my final comment.

Dear Melissa:

Now this matter had been solved quite a while ago, could you please delete it from your blog?

Many thanks,
Peter de Liefde

—–Oorspronkelijk bericht—–
Van: Inna Semetsky
Verzonden: zondag 28 april 2013 21:46
Aan: Peter de Liefde
Onderwerp: Problem again

Dear Peter
I sincerely hope that you will contact Melissa to request her to remove this insulting post from the Internet. As you recall she promised to to so after she apologized for her insinuations . Still the post exists. This is degrading to me as the author and to Sense as publishers. Please take it in your hands as it was a case between Sense and Springer — yet my name is involved. I hope that upon your request Melissa will delete the post which goes viral here
I consider this matter a subject if legal action — my academic status is tarnished because of Springer — and Springer got all data from Sense.

Please contact Melissa!
Thank you

Sent from my iPhone

To which I replied:

Thanks for your email!

– it may have been resolved, but it still happened. My blog post will be staying up, both here and on my own personal blog. There is nothing factually incorrect, and I haven’t been nasty or untruthful.

best wishes,


To which the publisher replied:

Good for you.

Thank God most of the people I deal with are a lot nicer.

All best wishes,
Peter de Liefde

To which I replied:

Hmmm. I’m too nice to get into a flame war with you over this.

Have a good day, and enjoy the sun.


Showing the Arts and Humanities Matter

Greetings from Dublin airport. Its been a busy week – on Tuesday I hosted the first 4Humanities conference, at UCL, then jetted off to Galway, Ireland where on Thursday I keynoted at the Digital Arts and Humanities PhD Programme annual conference.

The conference at UCL, entitled Showing the Arts and Humanities Matter gathered together various initiatives who are actively promoting the arts and humanities, to allow discussion regarding what is the best way forward to ensure that the benefits and contribution that the Arts and Humanities make to society is recognised. It was a fantastic day, and I learnt a lot – I’m fairly new to this area. Ernesto Priego live blogged and tweeted the event, and there is a storify of the tweets for those who want to catch up on the discussion.

One thing we decided to do was have a practice based artist, Dr Lucy Lyons, as a conference artist in residence, sketching and note taking, using a different sort of technology (pen, pencil, paper) than the ones we usually use, in what she calls “a frenetic, haptic method of note taking and engaging with the speakers”. Lucy created a wonderful set of notes and drawings of the day that capture the flavour of the event.

It is interesting to reflect that our discussions seldom wandered into talking about the practice led arts – and the fact that the immediate reaction of many speakers who saw Lucy’s drawings was “great! a new avatar for me on twitter!” (how we are all addicted) rather than a discussion of what integrating this process into the conference setting would show or tell us. I’m still processing that, myself – but I loved having a conference artist in residence, and hope to feature this again at future events.

Time for me to check in, I’ll tell you about #dahphdie at another time!

Just in time for term starting… Bag Lady Central

For the past few months I’ve been obsessing about getting a new rucksack to carry my computer around. My dear, cheaply purchased a decade ago, rucksack is finally giving up the ghost (but to tell the truth it was the best rucksack I could find at the time on a very limited budget, and Husband winds me up that it looks like I’m always going camping when I go to work). I have to have a rucksack to watch out for weight distribution over my back, but also I feel more secure with a backpack on, walking through London. Time to hit the shops!

But man, are the laptop bags out there all fugly. Most things for sale make you look like you are about to do the 10 peaks challenge, rather than be sassy academic-about-town!!!! etc etc. 

There is a serious gap in the market for smart, professional looking backpacks. I’ve done a trawl of the internet, and for the past day or so been chatting to various people on the twitters who wanted to know what I dug up, so here, for your “back to school special” is a roundup of the best laptop bags I have found.

Ally Capellino does lovely canvas ones. (via @rachelcoldicutt)

Sandqvist also do ones in this retro/vintage canvas style (via the power of google), and Notemaker stock a whole range of nice ones, especially the Herschel bags (via @flexnib).

Other brands worth having a look at are Knomo (via and Koyono (via @_ndrew) and Samsonite (via ) and Booq. (via ) and Tumi (via ). On the affordable end of the nicely designed spectrum, Belkin (via ) and Crumpler (via ). On the outrageously expensive end of the nicely designed spectrum, Steven Harkin (via google). Others swear by Timbuktu () or Deuter (). And you can, of course, go into the wondeful world of Etsy to see if there is anything there that takes your fancy (via ). (Thanks to anyone I missed in my twitter feed, too! I tried to keep a track…)

So there you have it. You should find something you really, really like amongst all that, right?

I’ve ordered something – I just need a new bag – but I’m still searching for the perfect match…